An Abulensean Pragmatist?
There appears in the 1991 Bibliographic Checklist the following stunning title,
El sustrato abulense di Jorge Santayana,
of a 1989 book by Pedro Garcia Martin. "Sustrato" — if a single word
describing each philosopher were demanded, in this hurried age, this might be
Santayana's one word. But what on earth did "abulense" mean? After some effort, we
were astonished to learn that it merely means "of,Avila**; when Senor Martin wishes
to describe the sky above Avila, he writes: "el esplendor y la luminosidad del cielo
Many of us who participated in the recent International Conference on George
Santayana under the skies of Avila have come away feeling abulensean in a manner
we had not anticipated.
A major theme of this splendid conference,1 formulated at the outset by John
Lachs, was that Santayana's rightful place is in the pragmatist camp, when the question
is considered in broad terms. The most interesting disagreement was not given until
near its conclusion, and came from a fresh voice. Gerard Deledalle argued that the
pragmatists, and in particular Dewey, were tempted to include Santayana as a
pragmatist, but in fact did not understand him. Deledalle notes that both Dewey and
Santayana had written, at the time of the first world war, tying the excesses of German
transcendental philosophy to the excesses of a militant Germany. Although they both
developed the same thesis, however, they had an entirely different conception of what
they had in common with each other. Dewey was puzzled that Santayana should so
much stress their differences, when he was so much struck by their similarities.
Santayana's wide-ranging attack on transcendentalism, on the other hand, was so broad
as explicitly to include Dewey himself among the offenders, due to a considerable
residue of idealism in the pragmatist theories.
All will agree, I think, that what is important is, not to establish some final position
about whether or not a philosopher embraces some "ism." Rather it is important to get
each separate point right, and to give reasons why some aspects are more central than
other ones. And here there may be considerable agreement. Thus Lachs has the
impression that Santayana is a pragmatist. But should he relent on this point, and come
over to the other side, little more than a rearrangement of his original paper would be
required to make his case. The two major differences he notes between pragmatist
doctrine and Santayana's approach would open the new presentation, and become the
main themes. The five points of similarity featured in the original paper would become
the afterthoughts, upon noting that all of them are on the cognitive side.
My own impression is that Santayana differs with the pragmatists on most
important issues, apart from those of the cognitive side; and if pragmatists have the
opposite view, this is because they tend to see everything in cognitive terms.
Lest it seem that I am unfairly using this platform on a contentious issue, I would
1 We are all grateful to Herman Saatkamp, Pedro Garcia Martin, Brenda Bridges, and
many others for shaping this conference out of the flux.